Hours after a 13-year-old boy was struck and killed by a car Tuesday afternoon on Virginia State Route 15 in Haymarket, Prince William County leaders and the Virginia Department of Transportation said they will investigate the intersection where two children have died this year.
The crash occurred at the intersection of James Madison Highway and Dominion Valley Drive, which is referred to as Graduation Drive on the street connecting Route 15 to nearby Battlefield High School and Reagan Middle School.
“Every parent in this community has had a conversation with their children about walking across that highway,” said Mary-Elizabeth Roesch, of the DVCC Route 15 Safety Initiative Facebook group, formed by a coalition of eight mothers who live in the Dominion Valley community, which is located across Route 15 from the schools.
“The problem is that our high school is located on the opposite side from the neighborhood, so we have children, like it or not, who are walking to school to avoid being on a bus in the middle of COVID-19,” said Roesch.
“It’s dark, they hit a button on the side to request a crossing, and they enter a crosswalk across a divided highway, where the speed limit is 55 miles an hour.”
The signalized intersection is an example of the differences in road configuration and traffic flow along the length of Route 15, a major north-south state route stretching 230 miles through Virginia from the North Carolina line into Maryland.
The Dominion Valley Country Club community, built by Toll Brothers, first opened in the early 2000s — one of the earlier subdivisions in the quickly-growing Haymarket and Gainesville sections of Prince William County.
While portions of Route 15 in neighboring Loudoun County consist of two-lane highway, the site of Tuesday’s fatal crash — as well as a January 2021 crash that killed another 13 year-old boy — is very different.
The modern four-way signalized intersection at Dominion Valley, contains well-marked crosswalks and pedestrian lights. However, Route 15 traffic consists of several lanes in each direction.
“Route 15 through this corridor is a major thoroughfare for trucks, semis, construction traffic, you name it and we have it,” said Roesch. “It’s a major highway.”
Later Tuesday, concerned neighbors posted a Change. Org petition, calling on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors to build a pedestrian overpass as safe passage over the highway.
“The coalition is asking for the Virginia Department of Transportation and our local leaders to look into either a pedestrian bridge, or a pedestrian tunnel,” said Roesch. “Our research has shown a pedestrian tunnel might be more cost-effective.”
Roesch said the goal is to find an alternative to children crossing the highway at street level.
“We’re open to all suggestions. The main idea here is to keep children off the pavement.”
WTOP requested comment from county leaders.
“In response to the tragic event, at Tuesday’s Board of County Supervisors meeting, Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland, in concert with Chair At Large Ann Wheeler issued a joint directive for staff to evaluate the feasibility of a pedestrian bridge and other possible measures at the site,” according to a statement from Wheeler’s office.
With the death of a second student at the location in the past year, School Board Chairman Babur Lateef told WTOP in an email that he wanted the intersection to be made safer.
“I believe all options should be on the table,” Lateef told WTOP, in an email.
“We are heartbroken at the news that a child was killed crossing Route 15. Our thoughts are with the family during very difficult time,” said Ellen Kamilakis, acting communications manager for VDOT’s Northern District, in an email.
“Once the police investigation is complete, we will conduct a safety review of this signalized intersection with crosswalks,” Kamilakis said. “We will continue to work closely with our partners in Prince William County to support initiatives and infrastructure to increase pedestrian safety.”
Roesch recognized the challenges of funding safety improvements, especially on a major commuter route, acknowledging some might not want to slow traffic.
“With a pedestrian bridge where children can walk across it, you can zoom right underneath it if you would like to. We also have the ability to do a tunnel that would keep kids out of the highway,” she said.
Roesch said the coalition will seek the support of the governor and other elected officials, including U.S. representatives and senators, “because VDOT can’t make this decision on their own.”
“One more child shouldn’t have to die in order for us to get this done,” said Roesch, saying anyone who has visited the intersection can observe the potential danger of children crossing a divided highway, where large vehicles travel at highway speeds.
“You can stand there and see this is an issue.”